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Thanksgiving Buzz Kill – Seattle Public Schools and the “MYTHS” of Thanksgiving

Scott on November 22, 2007 at 12:07 am

To be sure that employees of the Seattle Public School District understand the “true” nature of the Thanksgiving holiday, the district’s Director of Equity, Race & Learning Support has sent out a memo to teachers and other district employees reminding them that Thanksgiving is “a time of mourning for Native American students.”

In the memo, Caprice Hollins tells everyone reading her missive that

“With so many holidays approaching we want to again remind you that Thanksgiving can be a particularly difficult time for many of our Native students.”

Her memo then links to an article entitled “Deconstructing the Myths of the First Thanksgiving.”

First of all, let me say that the list of “myths” in this article aren’t myths with which I am familiar. They read more like straw men that the authors of the article (Judy Dow and Beverly Slapin) have created out of typical Thanksgiving stories in order to act as though they are shedding light on the true, insidious nature of the “white man’s” treatment of Native Americans throughout the centuries.

To be clear, I am NOT one to ever whitewash (no pun intended) the treatment of the indigenous peoples of North America. There have been many, many injustices done to those groups. But at times such as this, some people seem to be in a rush to condemn all of the events and activities that went on during the days of colonization to the point that they want to lump the good and the bad together in order to characterize them as evil.

There are a number of “myths” and “facts” that Caprice Hollins wants everyone to be aware of. Unfortunately for her, the “myths” that she is pushing and the “facts” that she claims are the truth just don’t add up. Here’s a few of them:

Myth #1: “The First Thanksgiving” occurred in 1621.
Fact: No one knows when the “first” thanksgiving occurred. People have been giving thanks for as long as people have existed. Indigenous nations all over the world have celebrations of the harvest that come from very old traditions; for Native peoples, thanksgiving comes not once a year, but every day, for all the gifts of life. To refer to the harvest feast of 1621 as “The First Thanksgiving” disappears Indian peoples in the eyes of non-Native children.

It seems to me that only an idiot wouldn’t/couldn’t understand that the phrase “the first Thanksgiving” isn’t a claim that the Pilgrims were the first to ever give thanks in a feast of celebration. Doesn’t it seem obvious that “The First Thanksgiving” is a reference to the first time that the Pilgrims had a chance to stop and give thanks for the first year of their survival in the “new world?”

Myth #3: The colonists came seeking freedom of religion in a new land.
The colonists were not just innocent refugees from religious persecution…Both the Separatists and Puritans were rigid fundamentalists who came here fully intending to take the land away from its Native inhabitants…The Plimoth colonists were never concerned with “freedom of religion” for anyone but themselves.

“Rigid fundamentalists?” “Fully intending to take the land away?” Yes, and there is a vast right wing conspiracy of neo-facist theocratic nut jobs and thugs who have been hell-bent on taking over the country since the late 1600′s!

Myth #5: The Pilgrims found corn.
Just a few days after landing, a party of about 16 settlers led by Captain Myles Standish followed a Nauset trail and came upon an iron kettle and a cache of Indian corn buried in the sand. They made off with the corn and returned a few days later with reinforcements. This larger group “found” a larger store of corn, about ten bushels, and took it.

“Made off with the corn?” “Returned a few days later with reinforcements?” Talk about selective amnesia! I guess the writers of this article either forgot or neglected to mention that the corn that the settlers found – the corn that helped save them during the long, cold, difficult first winter – belonged to a settlement of Native Americans that had died out in the months prior to the arrival of the Pilgrims. They didn’t just help themselves to the food stores of an innocent group of Indians. The Indians who had lived there were long dead.

Why can’t the discussions and debates over issues like this be handled with honesty and clarity and not fogged over with exaggerations and political agendas? To balance the scales, these people seem to think that it is their place to twist and distort and omit the facts of history as badly as they accuse others of doing.

Once again, I feel embarrassment at being an educator rising from somewhere in my chest.

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